Running from dysregulation

Updated: May 12

Behaviour tips 1- How to deal with a runner

Catrina Lowri is a neurodivergent teacher, trainer, and coach. As well as having 22 years’ experience of working in education, she also speaks as a dyslexic and bipolar woman, who had her own unique journey through the education system

My next few blogs will be a series of tips about how to support dysregulated learners who exhibit common behaviour patterns. Here I’ll talk about children who run away and find a place to hide.

This can be seen as challenging as it puts the child or young person in danger. ( for more information about definition of challenging behaviour, see my blog here, or watch my video here Yet, like all behaviour, it communicates need and serve a purpose to the individual. So, that’s what we need to look at first.

1. What is the behaviour communicating?

In general term, running communicates a fight or flight response, usually with the emphasis on the flight. It means that, for some reason the child or young person does not feel safe in their environment.

2. Look at the environment

Ask yourself whether there could be a sensory reason why the child is running? Is the classroom too noisy? Or too quiet? For example. Is there something that the learner may find frightening in the classroom?

3. Look at internal needs

The next thing to consider is the learners sensory needs. You can do a sensory checklist like the one available on my website, or an observation of the child to see if they have unmet sensory needs and create a sensory diet to help with calm/ alertness. For more information, please see my blog here.

4. Consider possible trauma

The running may be the result of panic, caused by a trauma response. This could be something from early childhood (An Adverse Childhood Experience or ACE) or a school-based trauma. Either way, it may be an indication that a play-based therapy could be indicated. Consider taking a detailed history to establish of this is the case.

The above explains some of the possible causes of the behaviour, in the next section I will explain what you can do about dealing with the behaviour day to day, until you have dealt with each of the root causes.

What is planned escape?

I child who runs is in distress. We must understand that the running isn’t just going to stop after one session of play therapy. It’s going to take quite some time before the learner feels ready to stop this behaviour all together. In the meantime, I suggest using planned escape to mitigate the dangers to the child, and potentially, others.

This involves the following steps.

- When the child is calm, talk to them about agreeing a place to run too. Ideally this would be in a secure area, inside the building or outside in a gated area.

- Agree terms and conditions ‘When you feel like running say ‘ I need to run’ and go to the year 2 playground/ stairs in the science block and wait. Mrs Jones will come and find you within 5 minutes. She will wait by the window in room 5 until you are ready. When you feel calm enough give a thumbs up and she will take you to the learning support centre for a breather and then back to the classroom’

- Brief all members of staff that this is the plan

- Brief parents and carers about the plan and in all cases include them in the plan. If they also run away at home or in public, help them write a plan to help them deal with that.

The most important thing to remember is that the child needs to feel safe. Once this starts to happen, the behaviour will begin to change.

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